PULLMAN – Like most walk-on freshman college basketball players lucky enough to travel with the team, Will DiIorio gets most of his game-day work done before the game begins.
Out of the locker room early, the 6-foot-5 wing shoots as often as he can, getting himself acclimated to each arena, just in case.
That “just in case” happened again last Saturday night.
DiIorio, recruited by smaller schools but, as a Cougar legacy, decided to walk-on in Pullman, has practiced his way into a small role for Washington State, which hosts Stanford tonight at Beasley Coliseum.
When All-Pac-10 guard Klay Thompson needs a first-half break, and coach Ken Bone wants to emphasis defense, DiIorio runs to the scorer’s table.
He may be on the floor for just 30 seconds, a minute, two. Or, like against Oregon State, in WSU’s much-needed 61-55 victory, a crucial three.
“Will didn’t play a lot of minutes, but I thought his energy really helped us,” Bone said this week. “I love the way he plays off of his instincts. … He’s always aggressive, always gives great effort.”
Most nights after the opening tip, the former Bainbridge (Wash.) High star sits on the bench near fellow freshman Patrick Simon, the Ephrata High standout who committed to the Cougars as a 14-year-old, and Dre’ Winston Jr., who helped Lakes High near Tacoma to the State 3A tournament last season.
But the OSU game was a bit different for DiIorio.
The Cougars were in foul trouble early. It hit nearly everyone, from starting wings Marcus Capers and Thompson to posts Brock Motum and Abe Lodwick.
Enter Simon and then DiIorio.
“(Coach Bone) told me before the game to be ready because I might be going in,” DiIorio said. “So I was already mentally prepared.”
He brought energy, flying around the court on defense, and rebounds, grabbing two, including a race-in from the top of the key offensive tip Simon converted into a hoop.
The contributions continued in the second half, when Thompson and Capers fouled out. To fill one spot in the waning seconds, Bone used two of the freshmen, DiIorio on defense, Simon on offense.
Simon, whose strength is long-range shooting, struggled last weekend, missing all eight 3-pointers he took. But the confidence is still there.
“I figured I probably wouldn’t get the ball, because we weren’t exactly trying to push it,” Simon said of those last seconds stretched to minutes by OSU fouls. “I was thinking if I get the ball, I’ll get fouled, I’ll knock down the free throws.”
“Make sure I guard my man, block out, get a rebound,” DiIorio said of his late-game goals. “Don’t disappoint.”
Filling in when needed, for some, might be considered a disappointment after what the freshmen were doing last year.
Simon led Ephrata to third in the State 2A tournament. DiIorio was the Metro League MVP. Winston was the 3A tournament MVP.
Now they do a lot more sitting than playing, though Simon has appeared in all 23 games, Winston 19 – he didn’t play against OSU – and DiIorio 14.
“It’s a little different, but my sophomore year in high school I did the same thing,” DiIorio said about sitting. “It makes it better being with guys who are a lot better than me. It’s more enjoyable watching them play than when I was in high school watching other people play.”
It’s an adjustment, but one most freshmen expect.
“It was definitely pretty hard at first,” said Simon, who is averaging the most minutes (11.2 per game) and points (4.0) among the freshmen. “And it still feels a little bit different, not something I’ve ever been used to.”